11 Days of Heroes to September 11th, 2023: Bob Schnelle & Atlas

Image from 9/11 Memorial & Museum

Read clips from responses from NYPD Officer Robert (Bob) Schnelle in an interview here:

“I was in Bayside, Queens, where the NYPD K-9 Unit was based. I stepped out for a cup of coffee and suddenly my radio was going crazy. Everyone reported that a plane went into the World Trade Center, so I rushed there as fast as I could. On my way, the second plane hit, but I couldn’t see the towers, so I didn’t understand how bad it was. When I arrived on scene, I finally understood the scope of it.

“At the time, I had a dog with me, Atlas…I put the AC on for him, rolled the window down and went to help. As I was walking away from the car, the first tower came down. I ducked under someone’s truck as the debris fell. I ran back to the car to get Atlas, because I knew I couldn’t leave him in the car after that. Together, we went to start helping people out. That’s when the second tower started to come down. I remember running for my life, I grabbed the dog, and we ran.

“I thought about letting Atlas go. I knew he could run faster than me, and maybe he could outrun this because I didn’t know if I would be able to…He helped me though, he was a young dog, and he was helping pull me faster. It was a run for your life situation.

“At some point, I was assigned to start searching WTC 7. I had a bad feeling. A sergeant told me he felt the same thing. The six of us in our search team gave ourselves 15-20 minutes, and we agreed if we didn’t find anyone in that time we would leave. There were fires everywhere in the building and we just felt something eerie. I don’t think we were out of there for more than an hour before the building collapsed.

“I was glad I chose to bring Atlas. The [car] windows were blown out…I doubt he would’ve survived if I left him there.

“For the first few weeks, we were doing 12-hour shifts, almost non-stop. A mobile veterinary [clinic] was set up for the dogs…The dogs were working hard. We were taking a beating with safety equipment, but the dogs had nothing…It was amazing that they were able to perform. I’m sure Atlas was traumatized by surviving that first day.

“I was told to join the WTC Health Program early. They told me that I could never imagine what I could get years down the road. I do have esophagus issues, GERD, asthma, and breathing issues. I consider myself healthy when compared to the other people who are suffering.

“Atlas died from cancer in 2008, at 10 years old.”

Image from CBS News